Dyed and Gone to Heaven – An Online Magazine and Needlework Resource  

the proud owner of Zip Mercerie in Le Havre, France

by Rita Vainius

If a passion for needlework has turned anyone's life around dramatically, it has been that of Daniele Bertin! Daniele is the proud owner of Zip Mercerie in Le Havre, one of France's busiest ports. She was a post war baby raised in Normandy, in a blue-collar environment, with an upbringing grounded in the virtues of honesty, courtesy and propriety. Though blessed with an insatiable curiosity for life and a strong aptitude for learning, her formal education ended at age 14 when she had to leave school to get a job.

Daniele married at age 24 and subsequently bore 2 sons and a daughter. Divorced since 1992, she has worked hard to provide a secure and comfortable home for them. While still married, Daniele began to long for a satisfying career of her own. She decided to return to work, but at age 40, not having a diploma was a huge handicap in finding a job. She opted to set up her own business - a traditional dry goods and notions store. Dry goods refers to textiles and related merchandise, but in France such a shop tends to be more specialized and caters to finer and more delicate work also. Additionally, Daniele offered custom clothes alteration and other tailoring services. This aspect became the basis for the name: Zip as an abbreviation for zipper, with a connotation for fast turn-around service; and Mercerie, defined in French as a shop which carries a variety of merchandise used in the sewing of garments, their decoration and finishing, along with items for household decor. Daniele applied herself vigorously to her small shop and earned a reputation for diligence and devotion to her clientele.

But all was not a bed of roses. Three years later, Daniele found herself in dire straights: behind on the rent while simultaneously going through the emotional trauma of a divorce. These crises began to wreak havoc with her self esteem and erode her self confidence. It was during this upheaval that a new pursuit helped to restore some balance to her life and, before long, to also ease some of her financial woes. What was this amazing restorative for both her bruised ego and her struggling business? None other than embroidery!

Embroidery had been on the decline in France for many years. Daniele chanced upon it just as interest was on an upswing. As she was "good with her hands," this growing popularity was a real stroke of fortune, coming when it did. During her darkest hours a number of friends had come to her aid offering much needed moral support. She credits one friend in particular, who is no longer alive, in helping her through this difficult period. Daniele will be eternally grateful to this very special individual for imbuing her with the will to persevere. This friend was also the catalyst responsible for uncovering Daniele's unique aptitude for embroidery. From then on Daniele's life took on a new purpose and her business, a new direction.

Being in the fabric business, Danielle was somewhat familiar with different needlework techniques and had already begun adding related merchandise. As her own interest in the needlearts grew, she applied herself to learning as much as she could from the meager supply of books available. She acquired enough expertise and assurance to offer some classes, which over time evolved into an extensive needlework curriculum. The needlework school was established 5 years ago and her students have remained extremely loyal. Her classes intensely interactive, breeding a special feeling of camaraderie along with a tangible sense of accomplishment. Small wonder that so many of her students have become close friends.

Hardanger was the first needlework technique which Daniele taught herself, employing German and American patterns as guides. She then tackled silk ribbon embroidery and thereafter, numerous other techniques. As she progressed and honed her skills, Daniele began to adapt what she had learned to suit her personal tastes and artistic preferences. This experimentation resulted in a distinctive personal style. Daniele describes her specialty as "peinture a l'aiguille," literally translated as "painting with a needle." She works straight from life, with nature as her model. A mixture of techniques, stitches and threads is used to add texture and give dimension to her work. The emphasis on her current tapestries is to imbue them with Rococo stylistic elements.

Daniele spent several years struggling to expand her business by moving it to a more spacious quarters. In France a single mother encounters great difficulty in trying to secure a business loan or credit line from the banks. In a typical "Catch-22" situation, banks are willing to lend money only to those who already have it! About a year ago Daniele found the perfect spot to realize her dreams to grow the business. Determined to find a way to accomplish her goal, Daniele persisted in applying to every financial institution in town. Just at the moment she felt she would have to give up, one lender finally approved her request. Ever since, Daniele has been on a roll, determined more than ever to make her vision a reality.

The new space required a great deal of renovation. In collaboration with a contractor-friend, plans were drawn up for the store design. The decor consists of natural wood beams and panels with white accents and trim, resembling in appearance the look and atmosphere of a classic wooden boat. The theme reflects her superb aesthetic sense coupled with her twin passions of scuba diving and sailing. The finishing and detail work became a labor of love completed by Daniele, her children and friends. The surroundings are cozy and comfortable, yet elegant. Trade in needlework supplies has increased, as has class enrollment. "All is well," Daniele asserts with a grin and sparkle in her eye.

Though she has been stitching for over 6 years, it was not until 3 years ago that Daniele came across the Caron threads. Daniele prefers them as they are "so marvelous and fun to work with." Her fondest wish is to be able to carry the entire Caron Collection line. With her recent relocation, this wish may soon become a reality. Her students are great fans of these fibers and just as eagerly await this new development.


Daniele continually strives to perfect her skills so as to fulfill her primary mission of introducing others to the joys and personal satisfaction to be found in doing needlework. She is ever conscious of the enormous changes it has made in her own life by fostering an abiding sense of renewal, faith in herself and eager anticipation for what the future holds. Daniel truly feels that she has been granted a whole new lease on life. " At age 50, what a thrill it is to feel newly born," she exclaims!

As a confirmed fan of the Worldwide Web, Daniele is thrilled to have the opportunity to share her work with stitchers throughout the globe, excited by the seemingly endless new possibilities for the exchange of information and ideas. She hopes that by sharing her experience, others will be encouraged to pursue their dreams and realize their own potential through stitching. Daniele has become a devoted advocate of restoring the needlearts to their rightful place as useful, important and desirable skills to acquire and preserve for future generations - everywhere.

Daniele Bertin can be contacted at Zip Mercerie, 81 Rue de Paris, 76600 Le Havre, France
phone and fax: 02 35 21 61 73

Special thanks are extended to Jane Gohorel of East Marion, N.Y. for her invaluable help with translation as Daniel Bertin speaks very little English. Coincidentally, Jane has family in Le Havre, France.

© 1997 The Caron Collection Ltd./ Voice: (203) 381-9999, Fax: 203 381-9003

CARON email: mail@caron-net.com